Footballers share the spoils
Students hit brace of injury time points to earn draw
Two points in added time restricted the Wexford Senior footballers to a share of the spoils with U.C.D. in Sunday's Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup Group 1 opener in Páirc Uí Shíocháin, Gorey, although it was an achievement in itself to end up with a draw considering the students led by four with twelve minutes left.
Wexford 2-14 U.C.D. 1-17
The new backroom team led by Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney managed to end up with a point despite a lop-sided free count of 29-8 in favour of the visitors, and they will now turn their attention to home clashes with D.C.U. and Dublin on Wednesday and Sunday respectively.
The game was notable for the return of John Leacy to the centre of the defence after an impressive club campaign last year with Glynn-Barntown, and he was flanked on the right by Conor Carty whose long recovery from cruciate knee surgery now seems complete.
Horeswood's Conor Swaine made an impressive debut between the posts and saved his side's bacon on at least three occasions, while there was also a first start in attack for one of his former team-mates from his original club Ferns St. Aidan's, Ryan Nolan. The list of newcomers had stretched to four by the end with the arrival of Jake Firman (St. Martin's) and Kilmore's Tom Byrne.
The distinction of claiming the first mark fell to Tiarnan Rossiter in the eleventh minute, one of ten in all with the majority claimed by Wexford midfielders Daithí Waters and Colm Kehoe.
While the crowd thinned out notably after the hurling game, those who stayed were treated to a far more competitive encounter than the non-event which preceded it. And they just about managed to witness a thrilling finish as a thick fog rapidly enveloped the ground, with P.J. Banville kicking two points to double his own tally and give Wexford a 2-14 to 1-15 lead close to the end.
However, he was dismissed nearly three minutes into added time on a black card for a foul on Seán Meade which followed an earlier yellow. Larry Moran knocked over the free that followed before landing the leveller from a Tom Hayes pass with the second-last kick as the stopwatch read 39 minutes and 22 seconds.
Conor Swaine had underlined his potential as early as the fifth minute when Wexford gave the ball away from a sloppy free and Hayes went for goal but saw his shot blocked.
Andy McDonnell got the students off the mark before Ben Brosnan responded, although it took the home side some time to settle with seven wides from an overall tally of twelve racked up in the opening quarter.
Wing-forward Eoghan Nolan played for the most part in a deep defensive role and alternated regularly with Tiarnan Rossiter down the left, but the team responded solidly when Meath speedster Eamonn Wallace restored the U.C.D. lead in the 14th minute.
Full-forward John Tubritt was alert to a ball which broke in behind his direct opponent and blasted it to the net for a 1-1 to 0-2 lead, although points from Andy McDonnell and Larry Moran (free) brought the Belfield boys back to level terms.
P.J. Banville picked out Kevin O'Grady to restore the lead in the 20th minute, with Eamonn Wallace replying before Banville made it 1-3 to 0-5 with a solo effort.
However, that was followed by a barren spell extending to eleven minutes, and U.C.D. held the upper hand in between.
The 2015 footballer of the year, Jack McCaffrey, showed he hasn't lost his pace after being abroad last season when he darted forward to kick the equaliser.
Eoin Lowry then drew his boot first-time on the ball which flew over the bar, while midfielder Jack Berry fisted a point to make it 0-8 to 1-3.
The gap was narrowed to one in added time when Wexford ended their scoreless patch courtesy of Banville from an O'Grady lay-off after good work originally by Tubritt.
It could have been more though at the break, because the last action saw Conor Swaine come to his side's rescue once again with a good stop to deny Seán Meade.
McCaffrey was mercifully one of four U.C.D. players replaced at half-time, while Wexford introduced Kieran Butler and Tom Byrne for Rob Tierney and Ryan Nolan respectively.
A foul on Colm Kehoe gave Ben Brosnan the chance to equalise in the 38th minute, with Swaine then standing tall as Jamie Gillen's attempt on goal was deflected for a '45.
Butler quickly found himself on a yellow card and Tom Hayes pointed the free, but John Tubritt levelled from a Ben Brosnan pass (1-6 to 0-9).
Three of Wexford's four second-half wides followed in a wasteful period before Darragh Lafferty edged the students ahead, but it was shortlived as Brosnan fisted over from a Banville pass on the next attack.
Paul Curtis had been introduced less than two minutes later, and when U.C.D. netminder Colm Honan delivered a slack kick-out straight down the centre, he gathered it at pace and advanced before planting a sweet strike in the roof of the net (2-7 to 0-10).
It should have been the catalyst for Wexford to push on, but instead U.C.D. hit back with a vengeance and reigstered 1-4 without reply in nine minutes.
Larry Moran and Tom Hayes (free) pulled back points before Dermot Gleeson featured prominently in a move which ended with the ball played across the square to Hayes who drove it high into the net.
Tom Byrne hooked a low shot wide from a Colm Kehoe pass as Wexford sought a quick response, but instead further points from Moran (free) and Luke Kelly left the home team four in arrears.
Kehoe got them back on course when he pointed from a Jake Firman pass, and substitute Ciarán Lyng then made an important intervention with a brace of scores, the first with his left and the second off his right after Kehoe won the kick-out (1-14 to 2-10).
While referee Brendan Cawley hadn't been kind to Wexford in his decision-making, the irony was that he blew too quickly when U.C.D. midfielder Jack Berry was clearly pushed while in the act of kicking the ball in the 65th minute.
It ended in the arms of Darragh Lafferty who would have been odds-on to rattle the net, but instead they had to be content with a pointed Tom Hayes free.
Now trailing by 1-15 to 2-10, Wexford dug deep and mustered four points in the space of four minutes to drive ahead. Seán Gaul set up Tom Byrne for his first score at this level before Daithí Waters fisted the equaliser after a pass from the re-introduced Ryan Nolan.
Dermot Gleeson had a goal chance for the students but was bottled up effectively on a day when John Leacy's physical strength at centre-back saw him burst through tackles with hard-won possession on several occasions.
The experienced P.J. Banville then assumed centre stage with a brace of points in just over 60 seconds, although U.C.D. weren't finished yet.
Gaul blocked Larry Moran before Jim Rossiter mopped up, and Seán O'Dea kicked the visitors' 13th wide prior to Banville's indiscretion saw Wexford reduced to 14 men.
Longford's Moran, a former schools star with St. Mel's, was composed enough to knock over the free before relying on his left peg to kick that last-gasp leveller.
Dublin beat D.C.U. in the other game in the group on Sunday.
Wexford: Conor Swaine; Rob Tierney, Naomhan Rossiter, Jim Rossiter; Conor Carty, John Leacy, Tiarnan Rossiter; Daithí Waters (0-1), Colm Kehoe (0-1); Kevin O'Grady (0-1), Ben Brosnan (capt., 0-3, 1 free), Eoghan Nolan; P.J. Banville (0-4), John Tubritt (1-1), Ryan Nolan. Subs. - Tom Byrne (0-1) for R. Nolan (HT), Kieran Butler for Tierney (HT), Paul Curtis (1-0) for O'Grady (46), Jake Firman for Carty (46), Ciarán Lyng (0-2) for E. Nolan (57), Seán Gaul for Butler (57), Ryan Nolan for Tubritt (67), Paddy Byrne for T. Byrne (70+2).
U.C.D.: Colm Honan (Meath); Alex Hassett (Cork), Darren Maguire (Kildare), Peter Healy (Antrim); Seán O'Dea (Limerick), Jack McCaffrey (Dublin, 0-1), Niall McInerney (Roscommon); Jack Berry (Kerry, 0-1), Gavin Farrell (Kildare); Larry Moran (Longford, 0-5, 3 frees), Andy McDonnell (Louth, 0-2), Eamonn Wallace (Meath, 0-2); Eoin Lowry (Laois, 0-1), Seán Meade (Meath), Tom Hayes (Cavan, 1-3, 0-3 frees). Subs. - Luke Kelly (Offaly, 0-1) for McDonnell (HT), Jamie Gillen (Sligo) for McInerney (HT), Dermot Gleeson (Monaghan) for Lowry (HT), Paddy Fagan (Westmeath) for McCaffrey (HT), Darragh Lafferty (Louth, 0-1) for Wallace (43).
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).